Sight and Sensibility: Evaluating Pictures

Sight and Sensibility: Evaluating Pictures

Sight and Sensibility: Evaluating Pictures

Sight and Sensibility: Evaluating Pictures


Images have power--for good or ill. They may challenge us to see things anew and, in widening our experience, profoundly change who we are. The change can be ugly, as with propaganda, or enriching, as with many works of art. Sight and Sensibility explores the impact of images on what we know, how we see, and the moral assessments we make. Dominic Lopes shows how these are part of, not separate from, the aesthetic appeal of images. His book will be essential reading for anyone working in aesthetics and art theory, and for all those intrigued by the power of images to affect our lives.


There's more to the picture than meets the eye.

Hey hey, my my.

Neil Young

Search Google Images for 'philosophy' and you will find yourself a few clicks away from almost 200,000 images allegedly having something to do with philosophy. Search for 'pictures' and you will net 3,500,000 hits. Pictures, once a rare and precious good, have been easy and cheap to reproduce for 200 years, thanks to printing technologies. Photography and now digital imaging have made pictures as easy to make as to reproduce, and hence as commonplace as text. Should we view this change with gratitude or trepidation? It is hard to know even where to look for an answer (not Google!). What is clear is that we must guard against some deep and possibly irrational misgivings about pictures.

The art historian Barbara Stafford has documented how pictures are 'everywhere transmitted, universally viewed, but as a category generally despised. Spectatorship itself has become synonymous with empty gaping, not thought-provoking attention' (1996: 11). Some theorists put the point more provocatively, alleging that pictures are by nature pornographic. This means not that they are sexual in content but rather that they necessarily promote 'empty gaping'.

The trouble, for these theorists, is that pictures are visual. An influential and typical example is the opening sentence of Fredric Jameson's Signatures of the Visible: 'the visual is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination'. Focusing on moving pictures, Jameson goes on to conclude that 'pornographic films are thus the only potentiation of films in

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